When you’re vacationing in any large or touristy city and looking for an evening of laughs, you can always count on finding a comedy club where you can enjoy good standup. That’s certainly true in Orlando.
But what if you’re in the mood for something besides standup? What if you’re not into two-drink minimums? And most important, what if you want to bring children?
In Orlando, the answer is SAK Comedy Lab downtown on Church Street, where ensemble house players perform brilliant improvisational comedy. Nine shows are on the schedule most weeks (seven performed by professionals, two by students learning “improv” from the SAK pros), and no two will ever be alike.
That’s because, in case you don’t know, true improvisational comedy is all unscripted. It involves scenes, games and sometimes songs that are made up as they go along, often based on words or themes chosen by random audience members. Remember the hit TV show “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” That’s improv. In fact, one of the cast members of that show—Wayne Brady, more recently the host of “Let’s Make A Deal”—once performed and mentored at SAK. Another distinguished SAK alumnus is TV writer and producer Aaron Shure, a two-time Emmy winner for “Everybody Loves Raymond” further recognized for his work on “The Office.”
You might even have run into some early SAK performers if you had visited Walt Disney World® in the 1980s. SAK Comedy Lab debuted as an improvisational comedy club in 1991, but before that, it was a theater company that trained and managed actors to play interactive characters at venues around the theme park.
Today the principal show at SAK is called the “Duel of Fools.” Every Thursday and Friday and twice on Saturdays, tw00 teams of SAK players perform skits, which are judged for creativity and laughs by selected members of the audience. Other weekly shows vary in format, including “Gorilla Theatre,” “Brawl for All” and the ironically named “Early Show,” which actually begins at 11:30 p.m. Saturdays.
Shows earlier in the week allow SAK’s student performers to practice their craft in front of live audiences. Instruction is a big part of the SAK culture. The group offers improv instruction in a multilevel curriculum. Higher-level courses cater to aspiring pros but the introductory level is tailored to folks who want to try it just for fun. In fact, check the organization’s website while you’re in Orlando, because SAK even has several free one-session workshops every year.
All shows at SAK Comedy Lab typically last about an hour. Admission ranges from $5 for the student performances usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays and up to $15 when the professionals take the stage Thursdays through Saturdays. The material is entirely suitable for families, except in “Early Show,” which can stray into adult themes. There’s also a family-friendly concession counter in the lobby.
The 250-seat SAK Comedy Lab is located in downtown Orlando at 29 S. Orange Ave. It’s on the second floor, above a group of eclectic galleries known as the City Arts Factory. If you can’t find a free street parking (or metered before 6 p.m.), you can park across the street in the ultra-large Plaza Cinema Garage. Bring your $9 parking ticket to SAK to get it validated and reduced to $4.